Every Single Day

June 7th, 2008 | shivering sands

Today we learned that our universe may well have "bubbled off" from a previous one. That, in fact, our universe may well be nothing but one of a chain of entire serial realities. Or, perhaps, universes cluster like frogspawn in the pondwater of some unimaginable hyperreal superfluid:

Their model suggests that new universes could be created spontaneously from apparently empty space. From inside the parent universe, the event would be surprisingly unspectacular…"a universe could form inside this room and we’d never know".

This apparently has a further implication: that the Big Bang (from our end — obviously an inaudible farting sound on the other end) of bubbling off from a previous universe meant that our universe emerged in ordered condition, rather than accidental chaos. This preserves the Second Law Of Thermodynamics, which says that systems progress from order to disorder, which explains why time runs in one direction. Serial universes explain the arrow of time.

In my slightly whiskied state tonight, this also suggests to me that time never ends. There was time before the very beginnings of the universe, and there will be time after the end of our universe. All the time in the world. Also, check this out:

Detailed measurements made by the satellite have shown that the fluctuations in the microwave background are about 10% stronger on one side of the sky than those on the other. Sean Carroll conceded that this might just be a coincidence, but pointed out that a natural explanation for this discrepancy would be if it represented a structure inherited from our universe’s parent.

Let me repeat that bit. The universe may have an inherited structure. Like a RepRap machine, a self-replicating object. Turn this one around in your head tonight: what if a universe is a thing that builds more universes? Or a postbiological animal that reproduces more universes in n-dimensional space?

We learn stuff like this every single day. Every single goddamned day a new idea just falls out of the sky.

Who’d want to live anywhere else?


Everything Is Happening

June 6th, 2008 | shivering sands

The things the internet have done to music continue to fascinate me.

In times past, people recorded for radio — that is, they recorded in a way that would sound good on medium-wave broadcasting, because BBC Radio 1, the nation’s way of discovering music, broadcast on 275 and 285 on the medium wave. FM was, for a long time, reserved for the Chart Show on Sundays, where Radio 1 took Radio 2′s FM slot for two hours. (Or was it an hour and a half?) This is one reason why there wasn’t any bass in British pop music for years and years. It didn’t broadcast all that well. Pop music was incredibly toppy for a long time; you only got real bass in clubs and at gigs.

Today, it’s the middle stretch that goes missing. Mp3 preserves the top and the bottom, but the centre loses nuance in the compression. And now I’m hearing people record for mp3. People are starting to complain about it — click around and you’ll find ”audiophiles” wishing for FLAC and Ogg that preserves more of the music. It’s just another cycle. Sooner or later, we’ll have another moment as in ’87/’88 when people discovered bass again, and everything else sounded kind of insipid in comparison.

Not that it’ll happen in a big wave next time. The other interesting thing is the immediacy and fractioning of musical movements. In (say) 1988, you could feel it coming. (In actual fact, there were two things coming — in addition to acid, there was a reinvention of guitar music). Genesis P-Orridge has talked about this a little bit, the weird surge in the air that took him to Jack The Tab. In those days, big cultural shifts were a slow wave passing over the planet, moving at the speed of postage and club nights and the occasional phone call. And they came, at best, one or two at a time. And they caught up everybody.

What’s changed is the speed of communication and the speed at which new music can be experienced. So today we no longer wait for the breakers to hit every 11 years (roughly: rock, 55. Psychedelia, 66. Punk, 77. Acid, 1988). Instead, micro-movements pop up every month. Some new eddy in the hardcore continuum, MySpacey chavpop, The Fonal Sound, British ”dark folk,” the spooktronics crowd being drawn to the Miasmah label (and too many more to mention)… far more plentiful than “scenes” in the past, geographically scattered and inspiring the sort of mad group inspiration and evolution that you used to only find at the top of big New Sound cultural events.

Everything is happening, all the time, very fast. I like that.


Chicago

June 5th, 2008 | about warren ellis/contact, shivering sands

At the end of the month, I’m off to Chicago to guest at the WizardWorld Chicago comics convention.  The name is a bit of a misnomer: it’s actually held in Rosemont, some way outside Chicago, basically just a convention-centre compound.  I will never actually get to see Chicago.  The experience will be not unlike a forty year old man visiting the city in LOGAN’S RUN.  Only without the sex and the mass suicides at the end.  That would be a fine way to end a comics convention — everyone into Carousel so Warren can watch you explode.  They ought to lay on that sort of show just for me, and I am therefore disappointed that they don’t show their guests of honour the correct volume of love.  There are never enough exploding people at these things.

As is usual when I do my annual American show, I’ll be doing a late-night talk on the Friday. The way these things work is that I am helped to a stage and then take questions from the audience until everyone gets sick of me. These gigs are sometimes curtailed by the fact that you can’t smoke in most of America anymore. Though I did light up during my San Diego talk anyway, and probably narrowly missed being arrested as, I don’t know, a lung terrorist or something.

This year at Chicago, Avatar Press (who arranged my appearance) have beaten expectations. They have somehow gotten my Friday night talk accredited as Performance Art. And it seems that under Illinois law performance artists can smoke on stage in pursuit of, well, the performance. And there’s a bar in the hall.

This means that, since I can remain drunk off my arse and wreathed in smoke for the entire gig, I will probably be talking well into Saturday. And probably to myself.

But if you’d put yourself in the situation of having to answer questions in front of several hundred people, wouldn’t you want to be shitfaced and chainsmoking too?

The only drawback to the plan is that my signing schedule is, to put it lightly, punishing, and the press time will go on top of that. So the chances of my actually seeing anyone outside convention time are minimal to forget-it. My schedule usually commences at 9am and finishes out around 1am.

Please don’t be offended if I don’t shake hands with you. I shook with every proffered hand at my signings at Heroes Con a couple of years ago, and by Saturday afternoon I was having to ice my hand down. And since I use that hand for typing and earning bill money, that’s not good. I sign for literally thousands of people at these things now, and it turns out a thousand handshakes a day just pulps my right hand.

You may kiss the hem of my garment instead.

Last year I had singing zombie girls, but this year I kind of fancy a call to prayer before my signings begin. What do you think? Too much?


Seven Songs

June 5th, 2008 | music, shivering sands

As noted earlier in the week, Kid Shirt tagged me in the Seven Songs Meme that’s doing the rounds:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to."

These things circulate like a dose of the intellectual clap. "I fucked this disease into your brainmeat. Confess your shame in public and then fuck it into seven other people." You find yourself looking at your friends and fellow-travellers, wondering which of them you hate enough to infect.

1: "Denaissance" – Kemper Norton Collective

I once played this on a podcast, but I’m listening to it again since Kemper included it on his recent CD-R. Again and again. Because it’s joyous, in its own doomed and drunken way. It’s big and it stomps and there are lots of instruments and lots of people singing and playing and just fucking daring the sun to go down.

2: "Live at ICC, Tokyo" – Philip Jeck

Do not listen to Philip Jeck on earphones in a darkened Oslo hotel room at three in the morning. Philip Jeck’s association by others with the emergent field/passing game of sonic hauntology is half-founded on the fact that he can haunt a room. I never really "got" Jeck until I saw him live — he creates a thoroughly supernatural chill in acoustic space — and I found this recording afterwards. Put it on my phone to listen to during my recent trip back to Norway. Usual hotel room insomnia brought on by sleeping alone. Pushed in the earbuds and pressed play. Fuck me, that was a mistake.

3: "Late Night" – Belong

Someone else playing with haunted audio: the sound of an obscure cover version playing on an AM car radio as you walk past it at night. Washed out by the ambience of 21st Century life. Almost but not quite lost in it: that gorgeous sad-smile chord change at the top of the chorus still comes through. It’s a thing that makes me pensive.

4: "Ghosts IV 32" – NIN

My favourite piece from GHOSTS I-IV. That prowling, pulsing rhythm has a real motorik feel to it, that slightly sleazy driving-at-night propulsiveness. It’s the piece on GHOSTS that I can slip into and go with.

5: "Reed Sodger" – Clive Powell

Yes, still obsessed with this, a couple of months after I first wrote about it here. It probably comes out of my current fascination with "haunted music/music that haunts." With the weird accompaniment of distorted and filtered instruments, it’s almost like the clearest Electronic Voice Phenomenon you ever heard — the strong, sweet voice of Northern Britain of decades and centuries past coming back to us through the DOCTOR WHO time-tunnel howlaround effect.

6: "Guest Informant" – The Fall

Ancient, I know. I’m in the process of replacing all my crumbled old Fall tapes and unusable Fall vinyl with CDs. The "Brix years" of the Fall tend to be looked down on a bit, these days, and my own favourite Fall is still HEX ENDUCTION HOUR… but I rediscovered my love of this garagey bit of impenetrable twanging madness off FRENZ EXPERIMENT. I spent a significant chunk of winter 1988 trying to work out what the hell Brix was yelling in the background all through the song. Turns out it was "Baghdad/ Space Cog/ Analyst." The new album’s not bad, either, Mark E Smith full on as The Last English Psychotronic Bluesman…

7: "We’re Gonna Rise" – The Breeders

Weird thing. This came up on my mp3 player just as I was finishing the last page of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD in the departure lounge in Oslo Gardermoen the other week. It’s insidious like "Fortunately Gone," the opening song on their very first album, but in a different way. It creeps up slowly, winds its way into your head, and before you know it you’re just kind of looking out the window wistfully.

Looking back, it’s all very quiet stuff. It’s been a very quiet spring. I just downloaded the new Ladytron, let’s see if that sets me up for summer.

Maybe I’ll try and sling all these, sans the Jeck, up on a muxtape tomorrow.

Now, the horrible part. I have to fuck this tag into seven other people.

Matt Fraction, of course, because I know that it’ll nag at him and he’ll eventually produce a masterpiece of obsession. Eliza Gauger, because it occurs to me that I have no idea what she’s listening to right now. Wil Wheaton should do one of these. I think Patton Oswalt should, too, but I doubt he’ll have time. Kieron Gillen is an obvious tag. I’m really kind of interested in how Susannah Breslin would respond. And I’m going to tag Ariana Osborne, to force her to write more. Heh.

EDIT: Simon Reynolds tagged me after the fact.


Obamania

June 4th, 2008 | shivering sands

When, on my mailing list some months ago, I expressed a preference for Barack Obama in the Democratic selection process, I received an email which read, ”Oh, I see. You’d support a black man but not a white woman.”

That kind of fucked-up paralogia seemed to infect the entire Clinton campaign, reaching its perverse crescendo when she trumpeted her support among uneducated white folks. Her press ops, as one wag pointed out, stopped just short of her being photographed taking a shit in an outhouse.

There’s a case to be made that the core of her campaign’s failure was that she was running against John McCain for the justplainfolks vote, instead of running against Obama and his “politics of joy” (a term I, not he, lift from one-time Dem hopeful Hubert Humphrey). There may be a better case to be made for her campaign simply being a shambolic display of entitlement and two-faced political hackery. The actual numbers don’t really speak to the genuine disgust her tactics raised in many people, hardening and broadening the schism between pro-Obama and pro-Clinton in the Democratic base.

On the Clinton side, of course, there remains a certainty that Obama is “all talk,” and untested in national politics of any kind — that there’s more to a leader than talk. Certainly he makes interesting counterprogramming to McCain, who is unafraid of mentioning that he ate water rats in Viet Nam for 18 years at any opportunity and has been in politics since Ben Franklin was a boy.

This is the point at which I get interested. As longtime readers will recall with tiredness, I’m fascinated by American Presidential elections, and over the last twenty years I have a flawless scorecard for picking the winner. This, I’m not ready to predict yet.

I want to see how he does against McCain on the stump. He’ll cut a better figure, and that gift for rhetoric will soar — but Obama doesn’t have the same advantages going in that, say, Bill Clinton had against Bush Senior. Clinton played the debate hall like a rock-star king, but he also had working experience as a governor that he brought into play brilliantly. The test of Obama will be how he behaves when McCain puts him into a corner.

I imagine the Republican machine isn’t completely happy today. They have the ”experience” card, but they really wanted Hillary Clinton. They’ve been waiting for Hillary Clinton. They know how to run against her. Some of them have been licking their lips in anticipation of the most sickening public political evisceration in decades. Remember when Hillary declared she and Bill were under siege by a massive right-wing conspiracy? A UK newspaper did some digging, and found it. Interviewed them and everything. And those people didn’t suddenly go out and get hobbies. Obama is a different animal, and harder to run against in many ways.

I like what I know of Barack Obama. I’m glad it’s him. I have concerns — about the strength and breadth of his platform, and, frankly, about his safety, in a country where supporting a black man over a white woman is apparently worth confronting someone in email over — and I distrust the messianic Obamania I see here and there. I understand the sentiment and its roots, but I don’t like it: it invites the universe to fuck with your life. But, from my perspective over here in Britain, he has something America needs in a leader right now.

It would also be nice, really, if Americans abroad could have some dignity and respect returned to them.